Kristen and I met in late April of our freshmen year at Moody, 1995. We were eighteen years old. For our first date we got tricked into a blind date by a mutual friend. It was fun and awkward and a good story in itself.
Yet our relationship really started on our second date.
I sent Kristen a thank you note after our first date through the campus mail system. (She’d paid for everything on our first date, it was part of a student activity where the girls were supposed to ask the guys out.) In the note I thanked her for the fun we’d had and closed it with an offer to go on another date that I’d plan.
Days went by and I never heard back from her.
So I assumed that she wasn’t interested in me and just kind of went on with my normal day-to-day life. But our mutual friend who’d set us up wouldn’t let it go. Every time we saw one another she’d give me an update. “No, she didn’t get the note. Send it again. She seems really interested, ask her out.”
With the semester winding down and summer break quickly approaching, I had a decision to make. It wasn’t a great time to start seeing someone. Finals were looming and I was buried in assignments. Plus, I was working a ton just trying to keep current on my school bill.
I remember sitting at my computer, a Macintosh LC 575, looking at the note I’d sent a few days before, coming up with excuses. I was out of the paper I’d used. And I just kind of wondered if it was even worth the effort to reprint it.
I was still convinced that she’d gotten the note and thrown it away, uninterested in me. What’s more humiliating? One rejection or two?
But I did print it again. I folded it in half, then folded it in half again, writing her name on the outside of it. Then I took the elevator down from my dorm and walked over to hers, pinning it on the bulletin board in her lobby. (The Facebook of Moody’s campus life in the 1990s.) I went back to my room to study, figuring I’d never hear from her again.
The phone rang within minutes.
It was the friend who’d set us up. She’d seen the note on the bulletin board for Kristen. She told me that Kristen was out babysitting but would be back after dinner. So I went back to studying, then to dinner, then back to my room just-in-case she called. (I hated studying in my room. So I was probably trying to convince myself to study while doing anything but study.)
About 6:30 the phone rang. It was Kristen. I tried to play it cool and conversational. But after a couple pleasantries she cut right to the chase. “I’m not doing anything tonight, so if you’d like to go out that’d be great.” That’s a directness that I’ve come to adore. But it took me off guard… left me backpedalling, and surprisingly… without much to say. (A fete in itself!)
“I’ll meet you in the lobby in about 15 minutes.” I said, my mind spinning with the question of what to do.
I hung up the phone. Crap. I’ve got 15 minutes to come up with a plan, get dressed, and get downstairs. What are we going to do? 15 minutes wasn’t even enough time to run to the bank a few blocks away and get some cash. I think I had a total of $3 and a few quarters. Enough to get us on the train somewhere. Then I could hit an ATM to have the money to get back. Not ideal but it’d work.
Looking around my room there weren’t a ton of cool date options. I grabbed a book I’d bought on a whim in high school, Six by Seuss. (This same book is on the bookshelf in the boys room right now.) I tossed the book into my backpack along with some printer paper and a bunch of markers and crayons.
Cheesy. But if she didn’t like it she probably wouldn’t like me, anyway.
I splashed on too much cologne, my favorite shirt, and went to the lounge on my floor.
There were two guys in there, both older than me. I asked them… “I need to take a girl somewhere for a date in 5 minutes. Where should we go?” One guy, a senior who’d probably never been on a date, told me to take the train to O’Hare and one of the terminals had an observatory with a lounge. We could go there and grab a couple Coke’s and watch planes take off.
Great. That’ll work.
By the time I rolled into her dorm it was almost 7. As freshmen, our curfew was 11. And it’d take about an hour to take the red line downtown and switch to the blue line all the way out to O’Hare. That left two hours for the date… plenty of time.
I sat down on the bench facing her dorm’s elevator. It was a place that I’d sit, waiting for her, for hours over the next year. (Time orientation isn’t Kristen’s thing.) My heart was racing. In all of the excitement of the past 15 minutes it just hit me. I’m about to spend several hours with someone I don’t know at all.
Telling her the plan, she seemed pleased. So we started walking down Chicago Avenue towards the red line stop. I didn’t know it at the time but this was Kristen’s very first date alone with a guy. She’d gone to her high school prom with a friend from youth group and even the previous time we went out, it was with another couple and was more fun than a real date. This probably wasn’t the romantic date she’d imagined. But it’d have to do.
We talked non-stop. Even with the train roaring southbound we talked non-stop. We got to the Washington station to change to the blue line, still talking non-stop. Soon the blue line train came and we sat down.
With almost an hour from downtown to O’Hare, we sat chatting until the train went outside, quiet enough to talk more quietly.
When the train popped out of the tunnel I reached for my first secret weapon… the Dr. Seuss book.
Fortunately, she liked the idea. (Or was at least willing to go along with it.)
We took turns reading different characters from And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street. And by the time we got to Horton Hears a Hoo, I was kind of taking over, doing all of the voices and everything.
That’s when there was an announcement that this was the last stop and we had to get off the train.
I looked out the window.
We weren’t at O’Hare.
We’d gone the wrong way and ended up in Forest Park. (Ironically, a village we’d later live.)
Horrified, we didn’t know what to do. The conductor kicked us off and told us we’d have to wait for the next train back to the city and eventually all the way to O’Hare.
It was almost 8 o’clock, three hours until curfew.
And worse, getting kicked off the train meant we’d have to pay again… I didn’t have enough money. for both of us.
And since I didn’t know where I was I didn’t know where I’d find an ATM.
I don’t know if she’d sensed it or not. But this was definitely not part of the plan. I was kind of panicking. While my plan was weak to begin with, now it was clear that my plan was a disaster.
Fortunately Kristen was more prepared than I. She had a few CTA tokens and seemed cool with sharing.
So, when the train came, we paid the conductor and sat back down to read more Dr. Seuss.
By that time we were laughing and getting to know one another. I remember looking at my watch and realizing there was almost no chance we’d get all the way to O’Hare, hang out watching planes take off, and still make it back by curfew.
I also remember stealing chances to look at her. She had the prettiest smile. I still live to make her smile as her smile changes whatever room she’s in.
It was a Risky Business kind of moment. We were going to miss curfew and we just didn’t care.
About 9:30 we finally got to O’Hare. I put the book back in my backpack and we made our way towards the terminals.
After walking by all of the airlines check-in counters, we decided we’d look for an elevator to the observatory down where the luggage carousels. When we couldn’t find it there we made our way back up to the main corridor. (Before 2001 you could pretty much go anywhere at O’Hare.)
As we made our way up one of the escalators I pointed to the lines at the American Airlines desk. “See the domestic lines? Those are for married people.” I said, clearly being sarcastic. “Really? Huh.” She said not really thinking about it. As soon as she got it she let me know that it was a really stupid joke and kind of rolled her eyes.
I was in love. Though it’d be months before I really let myself think that.
And that corny joke lives on as one of the worst jokes I’ve ever told.
It turns out that there isn’t an observatory at O’Hare. There’s no place you can look at planes taking off and landing. My dorm mate had tricked me. He later admitted that he just thought it’d be cool if there was one and it probably made sense that an airport that big would have a place like that.
Fortunately, O’Hare had ATMs and I got out $30 to cover the rest of the date.
Close to 10 o’clock we took an escalator up to a hotel connected to the airport. There was a dining room there, we found a table, and ordered some pizza.
That’s when I pulled out secret weapon #2. Crayons and paper. I think we drew stuff from the Dr. Seuss books. We were kind of in a rush, talked non-stop through a tiny pizza, then made our way back to the train. I overtipped the waiter to try to impress Kristen. She didn’t notice. Had she known she probably would have told me it was a waste of money.
By the time we made it back to Chicago Avenue it was after 11. We’d both missed our curfew. But it was close enough to the end of the semester to not really matter. Plus, we wouldn’t get in more trouble than this date had been worth.
As we said goodbye we agreed we’d go out again. It turns out that we went out nearly every night from then until classes ended.
18 years later we still take poorly planned dates that often end in calamity. And I still tell bad jokes. And she still rolls her eyes.
In some ways we’re perpetually on that second date. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.